Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 2, 2014

Vandals damage bee hive at Va. urban farm

By BILL LOHMANN
AP Exchange

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — When David Stover arrived at the scene of the crime, the victims were scattered on the cold, wet ground. Maybe half were dead. The rest clung to life, though their handiwork was in ruins.

Stover, a beekeeper, went to work righting the hive that had been knocked over in the night at the Tricycle Gardens Urban Farm in Manchester. He collected the broken comb and surviving honeybees and set about putting their home back together.

If the queen survived — something Stover won’t be able to determine until spring — then the hive’s residents just might make it. If the queen was among those crushed, Stover will need to find a new swarm to populate the hive. Either way, he wanted to make a point by hand-lettering a message on the roof of the hive:

“PLEASE DON’T HURT THE HONEYBEES.”

“I painted that on there,” Stover said, “so if somebody came back and wanted to do the same thing they would stop for a moment and think.”

Here’s what Stover would want someone to think about:

“That there are bees here, and they’re very docile, nonaggressive little insects,” he said, “and they do a lot of good.”

That good includes pollinating plants on the urban farm as well as gardens within a 2-mile radius. In a global sense, the humble honeybee plays an integral role in food production. Or, as Stover put it, “without bees, the price of food would skyrocket, you wouldn’t have some of the produce that’s out there, a lot of the fruits would be nonexistent — and the world wouldn’t be half as much fun without bees.”

And a world without — or without enough — bees is a worrisome possibility since beekeepers started noticing a few years ago that bees were abandoning their hives en masse. Researchers are calling it “colony collapse disorder.” Though pesticides or parasites or viruses are suspected, the cause or causes have not been determined.

Bottom line: Bees really don’t need some dope (or dopes) coming along and kicking over their hive.

So, Stover and Tricycle Gardens executive director Sally Schwitters thought this might be a good time to remind people not only about the importance of bees but also what’s going on at Ninth and Bainbridge streets. Or, as Stover put it when he relayed the story to me that he hoped “a little publicity about the good that Tricycle Gardens and honeybees do for the community might make the neighbors living nearby more aware of this great resource and help to keep an eye on the property.”

He added, “Maybe the vandals that did this destruction might even read or hear about this and have second thoughts about doing such a thoughtless act in the future.”

Tricycle Gardens is a nonprofit organization that has transformed a vacant city corner with an amazing view of the downtown skyline into a minifarm with row crops, hoop houses and composting. Food is sold to local restaurants and at a farm stand in Church Hill on Thursdays year-round. Tricycle Gardens also has partnered as a supplier with corner stores in Richmond’s East End in an effort to increase community access to fresh, locally grown produce.

The urban farm is a working model for sustainable agriculture that serves as a classroom for farmers-to-be and school kids, all the while addressing issues of so-called food deserts and beautifying public spaces.

Since the farm was established in 2010, the results have been even better than imagined, Schwitters said. An expansion is underway that will bring the farm to a full acre.

“We love what we’re doing,” she said.

Despite being an open public space, protected by little more than a hedgerow of raspberry vines, flowers and herbs, the farm has experienced only random intrusions from those who want to cause trouble: a cut in a hoop house cover, the occasional plant yanked from the ground.

“If someone wants food from this space, we want them to have it, and we’ll help them get it,” Schwitters said. “But we don’t want them to keep us from providing food to somebody else. If you’re ripping out plants that’s what you’re doing. If you’re knocking over hives that’s what you’re doing.

“We want to be a very public, open, welcoming space,” she said. “But we’re probably going to have to put up a fence to protect some of it because what we’re doing is so important for our community.”

The bees were coming and going from their hive in recent mild weather, collecting honey from the broken combs gathered on a sheet of plywood. There were maybe 3,000 or 4,000 bees in the hive when it was upended, Stover said. In the summer, the same thriving hive might be inhabited by 20,000 or 30,000 bees. He will know in the coming months if the queen survived and if the hive will be buzzing, as they say, with activity this summer.

“It’s a meditative thing to watch them,” Schwitters said. “They have a job to do, and they do it.”

Bill Lohmann writes for Richmond Times-Dispatch